From One Vinny To Another: Damphousse On Lecavalier, Lemieux And Playing In Montreal

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Former Canadiens captain Vincent Damphousse was a guest yesterday on CKAC, talking up some of his current projects. As a former local player who starred and excelled under the Habs hot spotlight, the inevitable Vincent Lecavalier questions came to the fore.

Damphousse had some interesting points to bring up, especially as he has been well acquainted with the pressure of winning in Montreal. The one time Stanley Cup champion with the Canadiens also spoke briefly on Claude Lemieux and his former San Jose Sharks team the four time Cup champion has just been called up to.

The one time Canadiens number 25 is presently involved with a group of associates who have now open their third franchise of Le Scandinave, which consists of hot tub baths and saunas, in old Montreal. There are two other locales, one in Mont Tremblant and another in Ontario.

Changing the subject, host Michel Langevin asked Damphousse, "How about we talk some hockey?", to which he replied, "I'm not attempting a comeback, by the way!" Langevin then asked Damphousse if he happened to have some free coupons at his disposition, as the host h as apparently lost his bet with Lemieux, who has defied incredible odds and made it back to the NHL after a five season absense.

Damphousse said he wasn't surprised to see Lemieux succeed, for two reasons. First of all, he said that "Having known Sharks GM Doug Wilson and being well acquainted with the problems San Jose has had in getting by the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs and making it to the Cup final, Lemieux brings vast experience to what is still a young team."

"I can see Lemieux towards the end of the season, forming some good fourth line chemistry, maybe not playing alot of minutes, but bringing his experience into the dressing room to benefit the younger players."

Damphousse said he was quite impressed by Lemieux's committment, considering that he has a young family, and had to take the long route back, through the minors to achieve this goal. He admired it because of the sacrifes involved and the fact that Lemieux wasn't doing it for the money.

"He still had that fire burning inside, and you have to respect that. This was very ambitious to undertake, and it couldn't have been easy. Now he'll have his shot in the NHL one more time."

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Langevin then brought up that it was obvious that Damphousse was still a Canadiens fan, as he is often seen at the Bell Centre, and asked if he was surprised, that with all the injuries to key players such as Carey Price, Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins and Alex Tanguay, that the Habs have managed to not only remain competitive, but seemingly have played even better.

"No, obviously I didn't see this happening, but it's now a happy problem for Carbonneau. What it has given the Canadiens is a great opportunity to evaluate the young players in situation that they surely weren't hoping for, but now they know Pacioretty better, they know the kids better, what they can do, what they can give to the team, and it permits them to have more information if they want to seek a trade. They have more tools to work with now because they know those kids can handle the work."

Langevin laughed at this, as it pointed to the inevitability of the Lecavalier questions, but before getting to that, he asked Damphousse, considering he was a guy from the area, what he thought of the recent play of Lapierre and Latendresse.

"I think it's fun to see players from around here do well, because they haven't had it easy time in their first two seasons in Montreal. The two of them have had their share of critics. Lapierre has spent time in the minors. They've managed to make their way and earn more ice time, and I think they deserve it, for their performance and their hard work. They're guys that did well in junior, but before being able to display your talent like you could in junior hockey, in the NHL, it takes some time and experience, and you must remember that those players are still very young."

"Lapierre is like, 22 or 23, and when they start their career and you have to be patient with them. Now they are showing us what they are capable of doing, and I think it's only going to get better."

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Damphousse was then asked, now that he is on the other side of the fence, and no longer a player but a fan, if he was excited by all the rumours last week about another Vincent - Lecavalier of course - coming to Montreal.

"Yes, I am hoping that Vincent Lecavalier joins the Canadiens organization. When you have that opportunity - I call it a perfect storm - it's the ideal situation in which to go get that type of player, because normally a team can't get their hands on that calibre of player. Teams will now sign those kinds of players to long term deals and they will keep them to build their teams around. Players like Ovechkin, Crosby, Lecavalier is one, who has signed a long contract like that."

"But with the financial troubles the Tampa Bay owners are having, the fact that they aren't winning much combined with all the good young players the Canadiens have, all those trading assets, they are capable of sacrificing young players and draft picks to go and get a player of Lecavalier's stripe."

Langevin noted that Damphousse himself had the opportunity to begin his career outide of Montreal, maturing as a person, before returning as a player. He asked why would he think a player like Lecavalier would want to leave a virtual paradise, at least weather wise, after winning a Stanley Cup where he's spent his entire career to come to Montreal and put himself under all kinds of pressure, in the form of a saviour of sorts, and all the things that come with that stature.

"First of all, you have to understand that he doesn't have a choice. From now up until July 1 he has little say over his future. In all the trades I have been invloved in, no one's ever approached me to ask what I thought. They call you up and tell you you're traded, and it's bye bye and pack your bags. It'll be the same thing for Vincent Lecavalier - once you're traded, then you adapt. That's the life of a hockey player. More and more, players like Lecavalier are being given no trade clauses. His kicks in on July 1, but until then, he doesn't have a lot to say about it. So if he's traded to Montreal, or Edmonton, or Los Angeles, he has absolutely nothing to say in it."

The host mentioned a piece written by Martin Brodeur in the Journal de Montreal over the weekend in which he noted that it had become too big, and he asked Damphousse, that as a former member of the NHL player's association if there couldn't be a more perfect situation than to have a player like Lecavalier come into a market in which the building is always full - tickets for games in Montreal are in constant demand, there is all kinds of publicity, a million spectators are tuned in to watch the games, the atmosphere here is always like it is presently in the NFL football, like in Arizona and Pittsburgh right now, hockey is the number one thing here, the city beats to the heart the team."

"Since the end of the lockout, the reaction of fans here has been nothing short of incredible. I don't care what Martin says, that's his opinion, but I wouldn't trade my years here for absolutely anything. They were my best years as a professional athlete and I adored playing here. Martin has never experience that, he sees things when he visits or plays here how much media is around him, that might lead him to think like that."

"Myself, I've always said that the pressure, it's not a bad thing, that kind of pressure. If you look at the best players in the world, whether it is in any sport - golf for one - look at Tiger Woods, he lives to be in a pressure situation, to make that great putt, that big shot. Same thing for Roger Federer, all the big names, they want to be in a situation like that. I think Lecavalier is that special type of player that would play better in Montreal than he is now in Tampa Bay because of that."

Langevin offered that there are a lot cities and teams that would change their situation if they could, players on teams where the franchise is in good financial health, who wish they could be in a situation like this. Like in Montreal, where the players benefit from all the coverage. Do you ever think sometimes, that there is too much on the Canadiens?"

"For sure that when you have 24 hours sports channels, the same subjects are repeated over and over, but as a player you have to accept that. It's a part of your work, and myself, I don't see a problem with it. You have to succeed in concentrating on your performance and what your job is on the ice."

"Like I've said before, I liked being on the ice when I felt that the whole of the city was behind us. Sometimes, when you play less well you are criticized, but most of the time the people accept that, they get behind you and encourage you, and most of the comments I had when I was here were of a positive nature."

With that Langevin zeroed in on the aspects outside the rink of playing in the city, and asked Damphousse, especially as he was a former captain of the team, how he found the rapport when encountering fans on golf courses, restaurants, times when he was out with his family.

"When you're playing with the Canadiens, much of what you hear comes from the short term. The most recent game, something that happened last week. When you are no longer with the Canadiens, the comments are generally more positive because they don't associate you with the team or a certain performance anymore. So it gets to be more happier, like they thank you for your years on the team. When you play for the Canadiens, and you're not winning, for sure you can expect comments to be a little more negative, but that comes with it, and generally the people are there to encourage you."

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